Sebastian Tagliabue insists Al Wahda will play at “100 per cent” to reach Champions League quarter-finals

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Tagliabue is thwarted by Nassr's former Liverpool stopper Brad Jones in Riyadh last week.

Sebastian Tagliabue insists Al Wahda won’t be taking their foot off the pedal and will play at “100 per cent” despite holding the advantage in their AFC Champions League tie against Al Nassr.

The Clarets gained a precious away goal in the first leg of the last 16 clash in Saudi Arabia last week as the two sides drew 1-1 in Riyadh. Abderrazak Hamdallah had given hosts Nassr the lead in the 17th minute at King Fahd International Stadium.

But lethal Leonardo’s ninth goal of the campaign in the 53rd minute was the key as it gave Maurice Steijn’s side the perfect cushion to take back to Al Nahyan Stadium.

But Argentine veteran Tagliabue has warned his team-mates that the tie is far from over.

“Of course the game is not finished. There’s still 90 minutes to play and Al Nassr will come very hard at us, as will we,” the 34-year-old told Sport360 ahead of the second leg in Abu Dhabi on Monday evening (19:40 kick-off).

“We also want to win and pass into the next round. It’s a very important game for us. We are ready and we will play at 100 per cent.”

If the Clarets are to progress it would be a huge statement from them and new manager Steijn, who has been at the helm barely a month after being announced as Henk ten Cate’s successor.

They are also in the knockout stages of the competition for the first time in well over a decade – the last time they played a game beyond the group was way back in 2007.

On that occasion Wahda made it all the way to the semi-finals, losing 3-1 on aggregate to Iran’s Sepahan, who would go on to lose 3-1 to Japan’s Urawa Reds in the final.

Nassr are also reigning Saudi Pro League champions but Tagliabue believes they will be feeling the pressure – not to mention the heat – when they head to Abu Dhabi.

“It will be noisy because Al Nassr is a big team. They play good football, but I think it will be much different here than in the first half there,” said Tagliabue, referred to affectionately among Wahda fans as ‘Tigali’, and who is heading into his seventh season at the club.

“They played a very high level in the first half and in the second they were very tired. I think here they will be very tired too with the weather, so we have to take advantage of that.

Wahda players celebrate Leonardo's (No42) equaliser.

Wahda players celebrate Leonardo’s (No42) equaliser.

“I think it was a good result and good game. We played a good game and during it we got better, especially in the second half. We kept the ball and played our football.

“We found a goal which is very important, it’s very important in the Champions League to score an away goal and now we have a chance at home to qualify.”

The winners will go on to face either Al Duhail or Al Sadd, both of Qatar, in the quarter-finals. In the other ties in west Asia, Saudi side Al Ittihad hold a 2-1 lead against Iran’s Zob Ahan, while in an all-Saudi clash, Al Hilal lead Al Ahli Jeddah 4-2 following their first leg.

Zob Ahan host Ittihad on Monday while the all-Saudi and Qatari second legs take place on Tuesday.

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Barcelona legend Xavi disappointed not to win on managerial debut in AFC Champions League

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Barcelona icon Xavi took charge of his first game as a coach on Tuesday.

Barcelona legend Xavi was disappointed he could not mark his managerial debut with victory as Al Sadd earned a 1-1 draw in their AFC Champions League last 16 first leg tie with fellow Qataris Al Duhail.

The iconic former Blaugrana midfielder was making his debut in the dugout having been appointed head coach in May after ending his playing days with Al Sadd.

Akram Afif struck first for the visitors after half an hour, drilling home Jung Woo-young’s chipped pass. Tunisia forward Youssef Msakni levelled for former Jose Mourinho assistant Rui Faria’s hosts in the second half to set up an intriguing return leg in Doha next week.

“I am satisfied with the performance,” said the 39-year-old Xavi, who signed for Sadd after leaving Barca in 2015 following 17 trophy-laden years in Catalonia.

“We could have won but now there is another game remaining, which will be played at our home ground and we are thinking about that game now.

“My only disappointment today is that we didn’t win. It is not a bad result as we scored an away goal, but we deserved more than that. What makes me happy is how the players performed on the pitch.”

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Xavi got his managerial career under way against the same side he ended his playing days against just two months earlier.

Korean playmaker Nam Tae-hee made his debut for Sadd against his former team, lasting 65 minutes on his return from an anterior cruciate ligament injury, before being substituted.

“Nam is returning from a seven-month injury lay-off, but he came back strongly and gave a good performance today. I am proud of what he had to offer,” added the World Cup and four-time Champions League winner.

In Tuesday’s other game in west Asia, Al Hilal took control of their all-Saudi Arabia last 16 clash with Al Ahli Jeddah, with former Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis netting a hat-trick in a 4-2 win.

Birthday boy Gomis had his cake and ate it as he drew the away side level twice after going behind, before making it 3-2 to the Crescent just after the hour, while Abdullah Al Hafith added a fourth to give Hilal the edge in the battle of the Riyadh rivals.

Syrian striker Omar Al Somah gave Ahli the lead after six minutes, Gomis heading in Peruvian winger Andre Carillo’s cushioned header soon after to level things up.

Cape Verde attacker Djaniny regained the lead for Ahli before half-time but former France international Gomis equalised again just after the break, volleying home after Sebastian Giovinco’s free-kick had been spilled. The ex-Juventus attacker then set up Gomis for his hat-trick before Al Hafith sealed victory.

Gomis, celebrating his 34th birthday, tweeted after the game: “Very good first outing for our team. I was so Glad to find so many people at the stadium, for this beautiful victory.

“The hardest remains to be done, we will do everything to continue as this inshallah, thanks again for your  messages and support.”

The winners could face another Saudi side in the quarter-finals, with Al Ittihad leading Iran’s Zob Ahan 2-1 from their first leg encounter.

Rui Vitoria, meanwhile, rued his side’s missed chances as Al Nassr – the fourth Saudi side in the knockouts – were held to a 1-1 draw with Abu Dhabi giants Al Wahda on Monday.

“We started very well and had several chances, we didn’t take them. Al Wahda did and they scored from their only real chance,” said the Portuguese who took over at Nassr in January after four years in charge at Benfica.

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Al Wahda favourites to progress to Champions League last eight after Al Nassr point

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Wahda players celebrate Leonardo's (No42) equaliser.

Al Wahda took a giant step towards the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League following a 1-1 draw with Saudi Arabia champions Al Nassr in Riyadh – but Hamdan Al Kamali insists the Clarets will now “forget” about the result and move on to next week’s second leg.

Wahda – now under the tutelage of Maurice Steijn who was unveiled as new coach only a month ago – earned a valuable result at King Fahd International Stadium, one that puts them in the driving seat to progress to the last eight.

But veteran centre-back Al Kamali – who spent time with Ligue 1 side Lyon earlier in his career – knows an equally tough test lies ahead when his side welcome the reigning Saudi Pro League victors to Al Nahyan Stadium on Monday.

“Look, the result is not bad, you are playing against a big team, Al Nassr, and in their stadium so it is not easy to get a positive result,” Al Kamali, 30, said after the game.

“Today we played well and it was a very good match in all aspects, defence or attack. We had a good display in 90 minutes and now we still have the second half at home. I hope we continue in this way and this spirit.

“It will be a tough match, tomorrow we will forget about this match because the next one will be difficult and hopefully we will be successful and reach the next round.”

It was an exhilarating result for the Clarets’ travelling fans and the players, who returned to pre-season training a month before most of their Arabian Gulf League rivals in preparation for the tie.

They have already written a new chapter in the history of the club by reaching the knockout rounds of the continental competition for the first time in 12 years. On that occasion, in 2007, Wahda went all the way to the semi-finals before exiting at the hands of Iran’s Sepahan.

Veteran UAE striker Ismail Matar played in that tie as a 24-year-old, and the 36-year-old captained the UAE side in Saudi on Monday night.

The hosts took the lead after 17 minutes when Sultan Al Ghannam’s inch-perfect right wing cross was headed in acrobatically by Morocco international Abderrazak Hamdallah.

Brazilian forward Leonardo, so influential for Wahda in the competition already with eight group stage goals in six games, notched his ninth when he equalised eight minutes after the break, latching onto a through ball and calmly finishing when he rounded Nassr stopper Brad Jones – the former Liverpool keeper.

South Korea defender Rim Chang-woo echoed Al Kamali’s comments by reiterating that the return leg at home does not mean Wahda can relax.

“It was good for us because Al Nassr are a very strong team,” said the 27-year-old, capped six times by the Taegeuk Warriors.

“They are champions from last season. So we prepared very well and today we fight for each other, we speak to each other and that’s why we got the result today.

“But even with the draw it won’t be an easy game in our home. We have to fight until the end of the second match.”

Elsewhere, Al Ittihad coach Jose Luis Sierra expressed his satisfaction with his team’s performance in the 2-1 victory over Zob Ahan in the first leg of their last 16 clash in Dubai on Monday.

Hamdan Al Kamali has warned the tie is not over (pic courtesy of Al Wahda FC).

Hamdan Al Kamali has warned the tie is not over (pic courtesy of Al Wahda FC).

After going behind to a Ghasem Haddadifar strike inside the opening 10 minutes, the two-time Champions League winners came from behind to snatch a ‘home’ victory at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium.

Goals from new signing Luis Jimenez – the ex-Inter Milan, Al Nasr and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai midfielder – and defender Ziyad Al Sahafi helped Sierra’s men end the Iranian’s six-game unbeaten run in the competition.

“It is our first competitive match of the season. So, overall, I’m satisfied with our performance and I can only expect the team to get better with every passing game,” explained the Chilean tactician, who re-joined Ittihad in February, having earlier helped them win two domestic trophies in a two-year stint between 2016 and 2018.

The winners of the tie will face another Saudi side in the last eight, either Al Ahli or Al Hilal, who played on Tuesday. Wahda know they will definitely face Qatari opposition if they progress, with Al Sadd and Al Duhail also playing their first leg late on Tuesday.

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